Shocking images have shown the extreme lengths Russians are going to in order to use a secret war symbol to show support of the Ukraine invasion.
It’s been plastered on billboards, displayed on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s tanks, popped up on a gymnast’s top and has been written on the walls of bunker in a children’s hospital.
The Z symbol originally emerged as a military marking and is now undoubtably becoming a symbol of pro-war Russians.
It was first spotted emblazoned on Russian military vehicles in Ukraine’s Donetsk region just before Russia invaded Ukraine, raising eyebrows as there is no letter Z in the Cyrillic Russian alphabet.
Recently, Ukrainian men were seen getting revenge for the invasion, urinating on a captured Russian tank emblazoned with the mysterious symbol.
While the exact reason behind the use of the symbol remains unclear, the Russian defence ministry has declared on its Instagram that Z means “Za pobedu” (“for victory”), The Guardian reported.
Other theories include that of military experts who believe the letter was used to mark where troops were being stationed, with Z standing for Zapad (west). Others argue the letter was used in an attempt to avoid friendly fire, while there’s also a theory Z stands for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
What is clear though is that the symbol is fast becoming a way that Russian citizens are showing their pride and support for the invasion of Ukraine, much to the rest of the world’s horror.
Ukrainian journalist and chief editor of the Kyiv Independent Olga Rudenko said it’s clearly a general symbol of the war.
“Russians have chosen the letter Z as the symbol for their invasion of Ukraine,” Rudenko said. “It is marking the Russian military vehicles and is widely used by the supporters of the war in Russia.”
In recent days more pictures have emerged showing the Z sign, including a billboard in Saint Petersburg displaying the symbol in the colours of the ribbon of Saint George and a slogan reading: “We don’t give up on our people”, in support of the Russian armed forces.
Meanwhile, terminally ill children in Kazan, Russia, were prompted to form the letter Z outside in the snow alongside their mothers, to show their support of Russian soldiers.
Vladimir Vavilov, chairman of a cancer charity that runs a hospice in the city of Kazan, organised the display and used a drone to photograph it.
“Our patients and entire team took part in it, about 60 people in total,” he told the UK Telegraph.
“People lined up in the form of the letter ‘Z’. In our left hand we held leaflets with the flags of the LPR, DPR, Russia and Tatarstan and we clenched our right hand into a fist.”
LPR and DPR stand for the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic – rebel regions of Ukraine. They are recognised as independent states by Mr Putin.
A similar image emerged over the weekend showing people forming a Z sign during a flash mob in Zhukov Victory Park, Saint Petersburg, supporting Russian servicemen.
They marked military hardware that is on display in the park with Z and V signs, unofficial symbols of the operation.
Also on the weekend, a group of vehicles carrying Russian flags paraded through the streets of Volgograd, with some displaying the letter Z.
Another photograph, this time from Belgrade, Serbia, shows a protester painting the Z sign on a street during a rally organised by Serbian right-wing organisations in support of Russian invasion in Ukraine.
Around a thousand Serbian ultra nationalist supporters also marched in Belgrade to show their support.
And the world was shocked when Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak, who was awarded bronze in the parallel bars at the Artistic Gymnastics World Cup in Doha, Qatar, stepped up on the podium alongside Ukraine’s Illia Kovtun.
Kovtun had won gold and should have been the focus of attention, however that all changed when people realised Kuliak was wearing clothing emblazoned with the letter Z.
Social media users expressed their fury over the ceremony, with one user saying “disgusting”, another saying “shame on you”, and many calling for Russia to be banned from sporting events.
There are also reports that merchandise featuring the symbol is being sold by the Kremlin-backed TV channel Russia Today.